After an hour and a half seated comfortably in the AVE, with a cream-cheese swirl cake snuggled clandestinely into the bottom of my bag, we arrived in Madrid. And the apocalypse began.
We got off the train and called my host aunt to see where she was waiting as my host grandfather was assisted by the “Atendo” renfe crew, who helped him into a wheelchair. “Near the taxis,” said the host aunt, and so we went out to the taxi stand. And it began to rain. We huddled under the overhang, gazing out over a sea of white taxis in a blurry raindrop whirl.
The host aunt’s van was nowhere to be seen.
Carmen pulled out her cell phone again and called her sister, Elena, again, to find out that they were actually by the Cercanías entrance. The attendance staff already off to help their next passenger, my host grandfather made his way slowly pushing his walker. I rushed ahead, burdened with my laptop, small weekend duffle bag, and my host grandmother’s inpossibly heavy rolling suitcase, to ask where the Cercanías entrance was. “To the end of the garden and on the left,” instructed the renfe crew person I found, and I scurried back across the station to inform my host mother. However, she interpreted “end of the garden” to be the other end of the garden, and with deafening cracks of thunder overhead, we began our procession across the humongous garden. Once we reached the opposite end, Carmen began asking everyone – fellow passengers, security guards, handymen – where the Cercanías entrance was. “On the other end of the garden,” they all replied, as my host grandfather, exhausted from the 100 meter march, looked out with confused eyes and grunted.
As the sound of heavy raindrops and thunder rumbles continued, we began our return trip to the other end of the garden, where Elena would be to meet us. After a long journey for my host grandfather, we saw Elena emerge from the crowd, our savior, with an orange-jacketed renfe woman wheeling an empty chair at her side. My host grandfather sat down, relieved, and while they went off in desperate search of a bathroom, the rest of us greeted each other with kisses and, as if our lives were scripted, the rain stopped with a weak grumble of thunder.
The elderly relatives – my host grandmother, grandfather, and great-aunt – piled into my host cousin’s car, while Carmen, Elena, and I clambered into her van for the hour-and-fifteen-minute ride to Elena’s new house, “the mansion”, in a small town of 7,000 called San Martín de Valdeiglesias.
The roads were busy because all the well-off Madrileños were escaping the city for the weekend and heading to their country homes in the Sierra mountains. During long weekends and the summer, San Martín’s population surges to 30,000 due to all the vacationers from Madrid. Plans to make the small route winding through the green mountains that reminded me of the Adirondacks into a large divided highway have been wafting through the curves and bends of the road, and Elena expressed her frustration: if Madrid could be reached in less than an hour, the mountains would be destroyed by the construction of chalets (the adopted-from-French Spanish word that means separated house) and San Martín would become permanently a city, flooded by too many cars and people than its carrying capacity could handle. Soon the landscape would be ruined, people would forget why they came to the country in the first place, and the suburbs of Madrid would have grown just another 60 miles. During Spain’s construction boom preceding the current economic crisis, hundreds of identical chalets were built in San Martín, and now the vast majority of them lie empty. The same happened in the outskirts of Ávila, a small, cold capital city about 50 miles northwest of San Martín which we visited the next day.
Regardless of the coming peril, however, we managed to enjoy the drive thoroughly, the beautiful landscape and fresh air a welcome change from Zaragoza. And once we arrived at the house, we were blown away: three narrow floors of bright colors and pretty furniture, an American kitchen, an Andalusian patio (despite the distance from Andalucía), and lots of windows. I loved the house, and when we put it to use making dinner I became even more enamored.
We dined on a revuelto of eggs, fresh green asparagus, and seta mushrooms, with lots of fresh bread and fruit for dessert. I was very glad that the apocalypse that had threatened us at the station had indeed decided not to arrive.